You arrive on time for your training course, seminar or congress.
At the reception desk you are given a thick dossier filled with the day’s programme, all the sheets and beamer slides all the speakers intend to use, and of course their resumes.
At congresses in particular you will also get the complete texts of the speeches, even including the words: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen…”
You can be sure that you’re going to be subjected to a number of lectures instead of listener-oriented presentations! What is now the sense and nonsense in this business of the handout?
What do you take away?
Of course you take a dossier away with you, but what do you really absorb from each presentation?
You get an emotional picture or impression of the speaker.
That picture is the answer to the question: “What was it like?” or “How was he?”
Whether it’s about the speaker or about his presentation is unimportant. The two are identified with themselves in your mind.
You also take away the gist of the content: the ‘message’.
This is the answer you would give to questions like: “What was it about?” or “What did you get out of it?”
And the dossier?
Of course you take the dossier with you. It’s included in the price…
But what do you intend doing with it? What happens to it in the end?
The chances are that in most cases the dossier finds its way to a shelf or a place in your cupboard.
Every time you look at it you say to yourself: “I should take a look at that again some day!”
And you never get round to it. It’s a sort of trophy, proving you attended that congress!
For a few years I took a poll among participants in my training courses and seminars.
The impression is clear that no more than 5% of those questioned ever looked at the dossier again after the event, whether it was a training, workshop, presentation or conference.
In the light of this figure, maybe you’ll start being more realistic about the function of your handout.
Why is there a handout anyway?
NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) talks about an ‘anchor’.
Although it’s used with another meaning than on a boat, it nevertheless concerns ‘tying up’ or ‘fixing’.
It can be a gesture, a word, a dossier… anything with which you consciously or unconsciously associate a certain memory and/or certain feeling or ‘inner state’.
Tying a knot in your handkerchief is an ‘anchor’; it reminds you to do something specific which you thought about while tying the knot.
The dossier on the shelf and reminds you of the meeting. You remember, for example, how boring it was and the clear picture comes to mind of the one speaker who read his text with so much hesitation.
Imagine that you then leaf through the dossier. You see the copy of a slide and you immediately recall the weak joke the speaker told at that moment. These are all ‘anchors’!
In short, the handout does indeed have a function, to remind you of what you experienced when you got it. And even if you never look at it again, you’ll always be reminded of something with which it’s associated.
Presentation… or something to read?
Statement: if your listener can follow your presentation from the text and illustrations in the handout, then you have provided the wrong material for the handout.
Compare this: if your listener can follow your presentation from the screen (you project everything and read it aloud), then your presence is unnecessary. You’ve made yourself redundant.
It seems to be just a habit that consultants prepare their reports as crowded PowerPoint slides.
These are printed in landscape mode in A4 format, bound and sent to the client prior to the presentation.
On the day of the formal presentation of the report, the speaker projects the same slides and reads them aloud.
You could say it’s very client-oriented… for the visually impaired!
But this thoughtless behaviour is an enormous waste of everybody’s time and energy.
It can be done differently, but only when the consultant is willing to let go of habitual behaviour.
The handout may include a thorough review of the subject, with illustrations, graphs, sources, references and everything which supports the impression that the work has been done well.
You may include the PowerPoint slides, but reduce them so that the reader doesn’t have to keep turning the report 90°, and use the rest of the page to write an additional, explanatory and supporting text.
When a congress organiser asks you to supply a résumé, take a moment to consider precisely what he’s asking for and what you need to supply.
The most important question is, are you applying for a job with your listeners? Of course you say “no, that’s ridiculous…” yet judging by some of the résumés in handouts you’d think that this was the case!
All that is needed is a short, easy to read summary of two to three paragraphs which provide the necessary proof as to why you are the best speaker to deal with this particular subject.
The handout may also consist of just one or two A4 pages.
A short ‘story’ which you write with numerous headers and short paragraphs (as in this text, although each paragraph gets a header).
Use simple, direct colloquial language and make it clear what the benefits of your presentation are, and what the benefits could be of subsequently doing business with you.
Just as with a Press Release, conclude with something equivalent to: “If you would like more information or copies of the slides…” and give your contact details.
It will now be clear to you that the most significant source of ‘wrong’ handouts is the idea that the handout should be a detailed report of what the speaker presents.
You now know that the listener takes away a certain impression.
It’s advantageous to you that this impression tallies to a significant degree with your desired image.
If you personally, or your company, wish to be seen as professional, businesslike, efficient and orderly, then it’s up to you to ensure a well-written, useful and attractive handout that is easy to read and worthwhile reading.
Remember John Naisbitt’s words in his book Megatrends:
We are drowning in information while we are thirsting for knowledge.
It is important to realise that what you present may always be different from what you put in the handout.
‘Sell’ the additional text during your presentation:
“For those of you who’d like more details about this specific point, take a look at chapter 3 of the handout – later!”
While you say this, hold up the handout – open if you want, but not in front of your face – for a few moments before you put it down and resume your presentation.
John Naisbitt’s statement is a serious invitation and encouragement to prepare a totally different sort of handout from now on.
A handout that has been thought about as a contribution to your company’s marketing mix.
You save preparation time, you save trees (good for your ecological image!) and you give yourself more freedom during your presentation to be flexible in the choice of the direction you follow and the amount of interaction with your listeners.
In other words, the handout is a practical example of your presentation skills; and how skilled you prove to be, is now up to you!